Photo by mrpbps | flickr.com

A few months ago, I embarked on a “learn about the world, and learn about myself” journey. I decided that my discovery should start at the other end of the world – in Australia. As a traveler, you’re met with the unique experience of suddenly having to make choices for things you would never consider at home: Should I visit the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the Opera House first? Should I pet a kangaroo, or a koala? Should I flush, or just half-flush? Wait…what?

We’ve all heard that joke about “does the water flush in the opposite direction in the Land Down Unda’?”, but no one told be about this dual-option flushing contraption!

At first, I must admit, I was a bit intimidated by this alternate choice of toilet availability; but within mere minutes I was thoughtfully congratulating the Aussies for their environmental-consciousness towards water conservation. Granted, it’s more of a necessity for them because water is in such short supply; but since 1980, the high-efficiency dual-flush toilets have slowly dispersed throughout Australia, Europe, and Asia. Nowadays, the idea finally seems to be gaining popularity in North America, due to rising water costs and increased environmental efforts.

In Canada and the United States, old homes were equipped with regular water-guzzling toilets that used 11 litres per flush. However, in 1994, the National Energy Policy Act (of the U.S) stated that new home developments are mandated to install toilets that use no more than 6 litres (1.6 gallons) per flush.  The dual-flush toilets take water efficiency efforts one step further: there are two separate buttons that allow you to choose between a full flush (6 litres) or a half-flush (3 litres), for solid or liquid waste respectively.  By design, regular toilets spin large amounts of water to vacuum out the bowl substances; whereas dual-flush toilets contain larger trapways (hole at the bottom), allowing gravity to do its work and thus requiring less water in the process.

In the market, these efficient toilets are more expensive than their regular counterparts – as are all new eco-friendly gadgets – but are well worth it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if the whole of the U.S. was to switch to dual-flush toilets, 2 billion gallons of water would be saved per day.

This being said, let’s be realistic: if you have a fairly new toilet existing in your home, you may not want to splurge on a dual-flush toilet. However, if you are living in an old home, or are already in the process of renovating, why not go for the eco-friendly option? You have to get a toilet anyways, so why not get one that can save the world? You would be conserving natural resources of both water and energy – as less energy would be required to pre-treat water and to treat and dispose of sewage. This is a key confounding aspect in water conservation; Water Treatment Plants would create less pollution if there was less water to filter.  

In Canada, we live in a country full of pristine lakes and rivers, but we need to realize the scarcity of water worldwide. It really is a limited resource, and a well-valued one at that, so let’s not be ignorant about the importance of water conservation just because the problem is not right under our bums.